Ovlov is the only band I know of who jumped straight from their debut album to their Greatest Hits collection (the second volume, mind you), which in a way sums up the band’s legacy. “Ovlov” (a term that is either nonsense or “Volvo” depending on whether you’re seeing it in your rearview mirror) was something I’d heard so much about by the time I finally listened to them that I was surprised to see they’d only released that one album, am, which they followed a full five years later with 2018’s TRU—an event which garnered a surprisingly small amount of fanfare outside the small-but-devout circle that was championing am prior. Along with their peers Pile and Krill, Ovlov helped form the ever-growing “if you know, you know” canon that populates Exploding in Sound Records’ discography.
Buds, the noise-pop quartet’s third LP, continues their quest to be known, cramming a tight eight tracks into under 30 minutes. While the record doesn’t sound too far removed from what they accomplished on that first album—beyond a much cleaner sound—most of Buds’ deviation comes from a sense of introspection, both lyrical and instrumental. As the title suggests, part of that materializes as homage to the friends they’ve made over the years (or, in the case of the recurring Ovlov character Steve-O, friends vocalist Steve Hartlett made in grade school), while the rest of it seems to come from a nostalgia for the early days of the band and the Brooklyn scene revolving around the now-closed venue Shea Stadium which helped them find their footing. There’s also a devout reverence for The Hives in there, but I’ll let Hartlett get into that in a sec.
With the album officially out today, we asked Steve Hartlett to walk us through each track, with the frontman going on a couple more-than-welcome tangents regarding some of the personal events that have shaped the band between albums. Stream Buds below, and read on for Hartlett’s words.
1. “Baby Shea”
“Baby Shea” is all about the venue Shea Stadium in Brooklyn, and also the relationships formed between myself and the majority of the employees, interns, associated bands, etc. Honestly even the building itself holds some sentimental value to me, given the number of times they let me sleep on the stage. I wrote this song the day after my last night there. That very same night was the night I met the last person I fell in love with.
2. “Eat More”
“Eat More” is all about that very same person, which I wrote the song for soon after I realized I had fallen in love. They didn’t feel the same at the time, however. Thus it being so needy, lyrically. One of my favorite guitar parts I’ve ever written, though!
3. “Land of Steve-O”
“Land of Steve-O” I wrote around this same time. I remember that because I had texted this same person about what had happened this particular day, which I ended up writing the song about. I don’t remember what it was about, but I know I got into some stupid argument with my father in the car, so once we got home I decided to go for a walk but ended up walking for about two hours and stopping to sit on a bench at the police station in the center of Newtown, Connecticut, where my parents raised me and still live today. (Not the police station, they have a house of their own. I hope that was clear.)
I also texted my friend Steve-O who I had been hanging out with a lot at the time. Basically anytime I was feeling like I wanted to hang out with someone, whether I was in need of someone to confide in or just wanted to chill, Steve-O was always down. He’s been an extremely important and close friend of mine since we met in the sixth grade—basically we both wrote that Papa Roach was our favorite band on a personality questionnaire our teacher wrote for us in order to more easily make friends with the weirdos from all the other elementary schools. I later learned mine was arguably the strangest in many, many ways. We’re such close friends that I even once confessed to him that I wrote Ovlov’s first song “Strand of Steve-O” when I was mad at him. None of it really makes any sense, I just know I was mad at him for god knows whatever stupid reason.
Anyway, I also later learned that Steve-O’s uncle replaced my father in his band from the late-’70s/early-’80s, who was also the father of Michael Falcone, Steve-O’s cool older cousin that introduced us to most of my favorite bands, then and now. Michael was like a celebrity to me, mostly because he made sketch comedy with friends of his from his hometown in CT that I feel really helped shaped my sense of humor for the better. When Theo left for school, I got the guts to ask Michael to drum for Ovlov, and thank the lord, he said yes! We’ve been great friends ever since. Anyhow, the song is just about how good a guy I think Steve-O is.
4. “The Wishing Well”
“The Wishing Well” is about how much I dislike the way some people respond to something a person with mental health issues might have done wrong, whether it be by cops or the employees at your favorite DIY venue in Brooklyn.
“Strokes” isn’t about anything, and I truly mean that. It’s about whatever you think it’s about. I called it “Strokes” because I wanted the drum part to be similar to some song by The Strokes, who I absolutely despise, so I didn’t add “The” to the title. The only good thing The Stokes ever did was maaaybe make it easier or possible for The Hives to become as big as they did. The Strokes were just the sons of millionaires who wanted to play dress up. The Hives, however, are some of the most genuine motherfuckers ever to pick up instruments, and it almost feels like a shame to even mention The Strokes within the same paragraph, let alone sentence.
6. “Cheer-up, Chihiro!”
“Cheer-up, Chihiro!” is a letter to the protagonist of the movie Spirited Away, if that were possible, of course. In my opinion, Miyazaki’s best work. Not necessarily my #1 favorite of his (because that’s Kiki’s Delivery Service), but I think it’s his personal masterpiece. It’s always been one of my favorite songs that I’ve written, most likely because I can’t help but picture scenes from Spirited Away whenever I play or hear it. It’s been recorded five times over the past 10 years, first as a demo for our first full length, but until recently I always felt it was too poppy for whatever Ovlov album was coming next.
I feel we finally nailed it on this album for a few reasons: The drums, bass, guitars, and vocals were all recorded in the session we did with Michael John Thomas for our album TRU, but again, felt it was too poppy to be on that album. I think the second time we tried recording it was in my parents’ basement, probably around 2013 or 2014 for a split we were going to do with Geronimo! from Chicago, though I’m not quite sure why that never came out. Anyhow, that night we tried recording “Cheer Up, Chihiro!” Immediately after we finished, our dad walked in the garage door from a gig he just played saxophone on a few songs at. We asked if he wanted to rip a quick solo at the end of the song we just did and he nailed it in one take, as to be expected. (He’s famous. Just google “Ted Hartlett”/“Fast Fingers.”)
Luckily we recorded it all to a click that time, so every time we tried recording this song again, we were able to just transfer that solo over to it. The most recent and possibly most significant addition to this song didn’t happen until about six months ago. Alex Gehring randomly messaged me on Instagram to ask if I was working on anything at the time that I might want her to sing on, so I just sent her the three songs that didn’t already have another guest friend vocalist on it and said, “Please, do whatever you want over any or all of these three songs.” For those of you who for some reason don’t know who Alex is, she’s one of the best musicians who is currently alive and sings/plays bass and guitar for Ringo Deathstarr. Also the most trustworthy realtor in Austin, Texas that I at least know of.
Anyhow, I’ve been a huge fan of Ringo Deathstarr since my girlfriend at the time first showed me their song “Summertime” in 2010 and I immediately fell in love and would say they were, as a band, probably the biggest influence on our sound out of any band around past the year 2000. So, needless to say, to be asked this by Alex was nothing short of one of the greatest honors I’ve ever experienced, and her harmonies and melodies she added to each of the songs she did made them each significantly better. It was especially nice to hear another person’s voice on this song, as if they’re reading this letter out loud.
7. “Moron #2”
“Moron #2” is about my personal struggles and negative feelings toward the music industry. The middle verse that’s sung a bit louder than the first and last verse is about my internal struggle with having to live on this miserable planet surrounded by beings of my unfortunate species who, at the core, are only truly hoping to eat as extravagantly, sleep deeply, and acquire as much money as possible, at any cost. Not everyone, of course, just in my experience, the majority of human beings are nothing but a super intelligent and physically large virus to this poor, poor planet. Maybe I’ve watched too many sci-fi movies, or watched too many documentaries about what we do to the world in real life as well. Anyhow, despite these feelings, I can’t help but try and find the far and few who make life worth living. That’s what the middle verse is about. The first and last are just me complaining about the pressures one might feel in this line of work and how I don’t feel that I’m mentally equipped to be the person that some of these higher ups out there need.
8. “Feel the Pain”
“Feel the Pain” is a message to two friends, who at that time were my closest friends, and how their attempts at trying to help me through a truly dark period made me feel. I still don’t necessarily know how to feel about all of that, but it’s been long enough now that I’m certainly not dwelling on it anymore. I knew I needed to change, but all I felt like I needed was a friend that believed I would change, and I didn’t really feel as if they did think I could at this time. Mind you, I was taking acid every day for about a month and have not felt the same since, so they were most certainly not wrong to be concerned.
I don’t recommend doing acid at all for the record, let alone days in a row. You will inevitably lose a part of yourself, be aware of that loss, but also be completely unable to remember what part of yourself it was that you even lost. This was over two years ago now, and I’ve since quit all drug and alcohol use as of a year and half ago. Minus the weed of course—I feel those who smoke it seem more sober than any sober fellow I’ve ever met. Those who dab it, however, are an embarrassment to the entire weed community.
Though it may seem otherwise, the lyrics, to me, are the least important part of this song. The riff came to me as an accident. I picked up a guitar with a capo on the first fret, thinking it was in standard tuning, but I guess the D and G strings got knocked out of tune, each perfectly a half step down. So I played what I think would be some variation of an A# minor to an F major, at the same tempo and rhythm of my favorite Nujabes song, “Aruarian Dance.” Years before this, I learned that the guitar part from this song was sampled from a song by Laurindo Almeida called “The Lamp Is Low,” which is a cover of a song from the 1930s sung by Mildred Bailey, which was based off a melody from Maurice Ravel’s piece “Prelude to a Dead Princess.” My friend and I discovered this all within a minute of me showing him the Nujabes song. Right then and there, I decided I needed to write a song that was also inspired by that one melody, as well as all three other incredible and now-favorite songs of mine, all stemming from this piece written in the late-19th century.
Ravel immediately became my favorite composer, and remains to this day, my favorite creator of melodies of all time. I recently bought a record of Ravel himself actually performing some of his pieces. Hearing this recording of him playing “Prelude to a Dead Princess” just felt surreal. It’s still hard for me to comprehend how amazing and lucky I feel to be able to hear his pieces actually performed by him.